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Chapter 8 Selecting and judging horses.

Selecting and judging horses requires combining and using knowledge and information about breeds, functional anatomy, age, height, weight, soundness, and movement. This is true when selecting a horse for personal use as well as when serving as a judge. The phrase general appearance refers to and includes the horse's balance and symmetry of body parts, carriage of head and ears, and style. Each owner hopes these traits add up favorably. While appearance is mostly aesthetic, it is probably the largest single factor contributing to the value of a horse and the pleasure of being a horse owner.


After completing this chapter, you should be able to:

* Describe 10 factors to consider when selecting a horse to purchase

* Explain how expected use influences the selection of a horse

* Discuss why the age and sex of a horse are important considerations in selecting a horse

* Describe costs associated with owning a horse after the initial purchase

* Discuss why conformation is a more important consideration than breed when selecting a horse

* List five steps in judging a horse

* Name the views used and traits looked for in judging the conformation of a horse

* Describe 10 qualities of a good judge

* Identify typical markings for the face and legs of horses

* List the terms used to describe common body colors of horses

* Discuss why the proper selection of a horse is so important



bald face




distal spots



leg cues



performance record








stocking plus




white spots


Figure 8-1 shows the parts of the horse and the terms used in referring to them. Familiarity with these terms will aid the reader's understanding.


Horses require time to care for them, facilities, knowledge, and money to pay for all the maintenance of the animal. Other alternatives to owning a horse include taking lessons, renting a horse at camps or parks, and leasing a horse and boarding it elsewhere.

If, after considering the realities of owning a horse, the decision is still to buy, then several factors must be considered. If the primary user is inexperienced, then disposition, soundness, and training become the most important factors. If the owner is investing in breeding stock or performance prospects, then the pedigree and performance records are crucial (Figure 8-2).



Investment or Pleasure

Why is the horse being purchased? This is the first question to consider. If the horse is an investment, then the buyer's personal experience may not be as critical as the advisor's knowledge and experience. If the horse is a young race or show prospect, or a breeding animal, it will be managed by a professional horseman. Investing in horses is risky business. Although there are some shining success stories, the odds of making enough money to pay the bills and get any return on the investment are poor. A person should be cautious with the first investments. Be sure that the advisor, breeder, or trainer involved has respected credentials and is someone to be trusted.

If the horse is intended for personal recreation for yourself or the family, then the horse's ability to cooperatively perform for all members of the family is essential. Owners eventually want to care for the horse themselves, so disposition, training, and soundness are important. Also, the recreation animal should be considered in the same manner as any other form of recreation--money is spent for enjoyment and not expected to make a profit. The animal requires daily upkeep, and the investment in terms of money and time is different from buying a boat or a set of golf clubs. Selecting the right horse that owners can enjoy working with daily is the key to finding continued recreation from the horse.

Selection of a horse should also consider:

* Owner's experience with horses

* Expected use

* Soundness

* Grade or registered status

* Breed

* Color

* Size of rider(s) and horse

* Age of rider(s) and horse

* Training

* Sex of horse

* Disposition and vices

* Facilities

* Price

* Conformation

* Pedigree

Experience with Horses

Very experienced owners may purchase a young horse successfully if they have the skills and knowledge needed to train the horse. Inexperienced owners and young horses are a dangerous combination. The best horse for a novice owner is a mature animal that is well trained and accustomed to a variety of situations.

If the owner intends to pay someone else to board or train the horse, then the owner's expertise is not as critical. But this may lessen the owner's enjoyment of the horse. Considering who will ride the horse most is important. Just because an adult can make the horse obey, it does not mean that a 6-year-old child can enjoy the horse safely.

Expected Use

The type of horse purchased determines how easily it can perform an intended use. Any type of quiet horse will work for a trail and pleasure horse as long as it is physically capable of performing. A relaxed, mannerly horse that has a prompt, flat-footed walk will be best for trail riding.

If a horse is being purchased for show purposes, then the quality and type become more important. Western horses tend to be lower-headed, quiet, and more heavily muscled than English horses. Hunters have longer, flatter strides and move forward with more impulsion and a higher head carriage than Western horses do. English or saddle-type horses tend to be much higher-headed, with their necks coming higher out of their withers. They move with more hock and knee elevation. Success in the show ring results directly from the horse's breed type and ability to perform. The type of horse selected should be based on the type of show situation.

Performance horses such as polo, dressage, reining, cutting, and roping horses need more specialized training and qualities. These skills increase the price of horses because more training needs to be invested in them. Success in these activities depends on athletic ability and training rather than on characteristics of a specific breed of horse.

Breeding should be reserved for those horses of a quality that can improve the breed or type. If the primary purpose of the horse is to breed it, then the success of the ancestors in the horse's pedigree and the horse's own performance record are important. Purchasing quality breeding stock is expensive, and the outcome of breeding horses is unpredictable, so it is important to spend as much as possible to obtain truly superior mares and breed to quality stallions.

Purchasing a breeding stallion should be done solely for income purposes, and only about the top 5 percent of the horses should stand as sires. Therefore, most individuals pay breeding fees, and many breeders will guarantee a foal.


Horses must be sound enough to perform their expected activities. Horses that are lame may have permanent problems that will limit their performance or make using them inhumane. Horses with blemishes--scars or marks that do not interfere with their movement--should be less valuable as show horses, but blemishes should not be a consideration with breeding or pleasure horses.

Horses should also be sound in their breathing, vision, and reproductive capacity if they are purchased for breeding. A soundness examination should be done if much money is being spent or if a doubt exists. The more athletic the horse has to be, the more sound it must be. A race or competitive show or event horse must be very strong and sound. Pleasure trail horses and backyard horses must be sound enough to perform the expected activity, even if not perfectly. Soundness should always be measured in light of the expected performance of the horse.

Grade or Registered Status

Should a grade or registered horse be purchased? Grade, or nonregistered, horses and ponies can be successfully used as trail, pleasure, and performance horses (Figure 8-3). But one can often buy a registered horse as cheaply as a grade horse and the resale value is much higher. If disposition and comfort of a recreational horse are the most important criteria, valuable grade horses are available. If the purpose is to produce foals, then only registered horses should be used. Many performance competitions such as dressage, reining, competitive trail riding, and combined training events do not require registered horses. Open and 4-H shows provide excellent areas for the nonregistered horses to compete. When the owner anticipates participating in breed shows, races, or other activities, owning a horse of that breed should be a priority.


Breed of Horse

The breed will dictate to some extent the horse's activities and performance abilities. Usually saddle-type English horses are saddlebred, Morgan, Arabian, and pintos. These horses lend themselves to the conformation and action to do well in English competition. Tennessee walking horses, Missouri fox trotters, Paso Finos, Peruvian Pasos, and racking horses do not trot. They are very comfortable for trail riding and showing in breed events, but they will not be competitive in English, Western, or hunter classes requiring a walk, trot, and canter.

Most hunters are of the Thoroughbred, quarter horse, or European warmblood breeds, as well as ponies such as the Welsh and Connemara. Western event horses most often are the stock-type breeds, including the Appaloosa, buckskin, paint, palomino, stock-type pinto, and quarter horse. Western ponies include the Pony of the Americas (POA) and Welsh.

Racehorses are bred to trot, pace, or gallop. All harness racehorses either trot or pace and are Standardbreds. In the United States, horses that are ridden and gallop are most frequently Thoroughbreds.

All breeds of horses have calm, quiet horses as well as anxious, dangerous horses. Training and handling styles affect manners more than does the breed.


The color of the horse has nothing to do with disposition, performance ability, or soundness. Color is, however, a significant determining factor in many people's purchase decision. Many breed registries such as buckskin, pinto, Appaloosa, palomino, Pony of the Americas, and Dominant Grey are based primarily on color. For individuals involved in breeding or using these breeds, color is high on the priority list. Otherwise, the training, disposition, and soundness of the horse are more critical.

Size of Rider and Horse

The horse is capable of carrying a tremendous amount of weight. The only time the relative size of the rider and the horse is important is when showing. Then the suitability of horse to rider becomes an issue. Small children are better off on large horses with quiet dispositions than on small ponies that are wild. Likewise, a small, quiet pony may be ideal for some; however, the child will likely outgrow this mount.

A rider's leg ought to fit down the sides of the horse in order to give leg cues (signals to the horse), but not be so long that the leg from the knee down does not touch the ribs. Most adults buy horses over 58 inches at the top of the withers. As long as the mount is quiet enough for a child to work around and mount, the size of the animal should be considered secondary (Figure 8-4).

Age of Rider and Horse

A good guideline is the younger the rider, the older the horse. This is more a function of training, calmness, and experience that comes with an older horse than of age itself. Rarely will a horse under 5 years old be trained and quiet enough for a novice rider. Horses live to be 25 to 30 years of age, so the purchase of a 6- to 12-year-old is wise for amateurs and novices. Riders with more expertise and experience can buy, handle, and train yearlings or 2-year-olds, but these young horses do not make predictable mounts for beginners.


A horse's willingness to respond to the handler's cues is a result of training. Horses that have "been around some" increase in value for the beginner. As more intricate maneuvers are desired for higher levels of competition, more training is needed. Sometimes, highly tuned horses are so responsive to the rider's cues that a novice confuses the horse and gets no response. A horse may be trained to the point that a person gets more response than is desirable. For example, the horse may make too fast a spin, too quick a start, or too hard a stop, and hurt the rider. Adequate training for the intended use combined with an experienced disposition is important.


Each horse has a unique personality. While personality traits can be similar, no two horses act or behave exactly alike. Being able to recognize and understand a horse's reactions to situations will be beneficial during horse training and the day-to-day handling of a horse.


Mares and geldings are a better choice for riders with limited experience. Mares often look more refined and attractive. Still, mares can have dramatic behavior changes when in estrus. Geldings are often quieter and more consistent. The only reason to own a stallion is either to breed mares or performance-test a potential breeding stallion. Sires in the horse industry should be of superior quality and have successful performance records. Only those able to improve the breed should be bred. Nonregistered males should be gelded within the first 10 months of life to minimize stress on the horse and handlers.

Disposition and Vices

The horse's manners may be changed with training and handling, but the natural disposition is genetic and/or acquired from the dam. Bad habits such as kicking, biting, wood chewing, and leaning on the handler can be corrected with firm, consistent, humane handling. Vices such as stall weaving, cribbing, digging, and being afraid of its own water bucket are likely part of the horse and not fixable. Horses that have been exposed to trailering, clipping, shoeing, and trail riding are usually quieter and have better manners. Less-experienced owners should try to select horses with minimal vices. A good disposition should be near the top of the priority list.


Housing for horses must be safe and adequate to contain the type of horse selected. Build or select housing that is suitable to the horse, rather than selecting an animal that can be housed conveniently (Figure 8-5). If the proper facilities are not available, then boarding will need to be found. Facilities should not be a priority when selecting a horse. However, they should be decided on before purchasing a horse.



The buyer determines the price that will be paid for a horse. Performance record, breed type and conformation, pedigree, and degree of advertising will influence the price. Regardless of how much is spent to purchase the horse, monthly costs are associated with keeping the horse. Table 8-1 can be used to help calculate the cost of owning a horse for 1 year. Generally, horses do not increase in value with age; rather, they depreciate. The owner should not expect to get the full financial investment. The value of horses can be increased with training and subsequent race or show success.

New owners need to put priority on the criteria that are important to the expected use of the horse. They should not pay for flash and show if these are not the most important criteria for the horse's use.

Most horse owners keep their first horse less than 3 years. Either they gain interest and expertise and want to get a nicer horse, or they lose interest and get out of the horse business. The nicer and more appropriate the horse purchased, the better its resale value.


The conformation or shape of the horse will dictate its athletic ability and ability to stay sound. Straight legs, especially through the knees and hocks, suggest that the horse will not break down as soon as a horse with crooked legs. Body conformation and the angle at which the neck ties into the shoulder determine whether the horse is capable of being a saddle-type English horse or is more suited to be a lower-headed Western-type horse. Short, strong-backed horses, horses with good angle to the shoulder, horses with long hips and strong hindquarters are desired. A bright, alert head and eye, a long neck, and a deep heart girth make horses more athletic and, consequently, attractive.

Some unsoundnesses in the feet, legs, and eyesight are serious and permanent. Horses with sight in only one eye are more easily frightened and are of less value. Horses with splay (turned out) or pigeon-toed (turned in) feet are more prone to unsoundness than are horses with straight legs. A horse's pasterns should be set at about a 45- to 52-degree angle with the ground and the toe at the same angle as the pastern. The steeper the pastern, the more concussion on the foot and the rougher the gait for the rider. The lower the angle, the more comfortable the ride; but the pastern will be weaker and more prone to tendon damage when worked hard. As with anything else, the importance of conformation depends on intended use of the horse. Less than ideal conformation can be tolerated if the animal is sound and will not be shown in halter classes at shows.

Chapter 7 discusses many of the points to consider in evaluating conformation and soundness.

Conformation is different for the different breeds. For example, the quarter horse and the Thoroughbred are more muscled in the forearm and gaskin and through the stifle region than the American saddle horse is.

Muscling, especially through the rear quarters, is important in all breeds. Muscles in this area give horses their power. Viewed from behind, all horses should have as much width (muscle) through the center and lower part of the quarter as on top.

Figure 8-6 shows a horse with many faults. Too often, this type is difficult to keep in good condition, and it certainly lacks eye appeal.


A pedigree is a record of a horse's ancestry. If the primary purpose of the horse is to breed, then the success of the ancestors in the horse's pedigree and the horse's own performance record is important. Intelligence or ability to learn is an asset in any horse. These abilities can be identified in horses trained or in training, and they may be predicted in part by pedigree or family relationships.



Because it seems like a worthy cause, some people will consider adopting a wild horse. Seldom does this prove to be a good plan for first-time horse owners. At first glance it may seem like buying a piece of the old American West, but the natural "wild" instincts of these horses and burros are very strong. Only yearlings and occasionally 2-year-olds should be considered, because they are not as set in their ways as older horses. Adopting a younger wild animal means that the new owner will have to work with the horse or burro for 1 to 2 years before it can be ridden. Most of these animals were underfed, and their health management was nonexistent before the Bureau of Land Management captured them. They have been kept in large groups and have had very little exposure to humans. They are often underdeveloped for their age and take a lot of extra care, patience, discipline, and training to be useful.

Experienced owners could consider adopting horses if they have the expertise and energy to invest in a project horse. The horses are of very mixed breeding. Refined, quality horses are hard to find in the group available for adoption. Even when properly trained, the horses are seldom suitable for show purposes.

While it is commendable to want to adopt these wild horses, the low adoption and transporting expenses should be balanced with the likelihood of a successful experience. For the money, purchasing domestically raised horses represents less risk--though it does not include the emotional benefit of adopting a wild horse or burro from the public rangelands of the American West.


To properly appraise or judge horses, the judge should view them from at least three positions-- front, side, and rear (Figures 8-7 and 8-8).


How a horse stands indicates how it will move. A long forearm contributes to a long stride. Sloping shoulders and pasterns are associated with a springy stride. If a horse stands straight, it is likely to move straight and true. If the legs are set properly, it is better able to move with collected action. The effect of conformation on a horse's movement was discussed in detail in Chapters 6 and 7.



Judging a horse requires close scrutiny of unsoundness. The pasterns, cannon bones, knees, and especially the hocks should be examined for any unusual swelling or protuberance. Nervous and continuous movement of the ears may mean impaired vision; protruding or bulging eyes, called pop eyes, usually indicate nearsightedness.

View from the Front

Figure 8-9 shows a front view of the forelimbs. A perpendicular line drawn downward from the point of the shoulder should fall on the center of the knee, cannon, pastern, and foot. View A represents the correct alignment, while views B through G represent common defects.


View from the Side

Figure 8-10 illustrates the different conformations of the hind legs seen from the side. A perpendicular line drawn from the point of the buttock should just touch the upper rear point of the hock and fall barely behind the rear line of the cannon and fetlock.

Correct position of the leg as viewed from the side is most important in a horse. Figure 8-11 shows a side view of the forelimbs. A perpendicular line drawn downward from the center of the elbow point should fall upon the center of the knee and pastern and back of the foot. A perpendicular line downward from the middle of the arm should fall upon the center of the foot. View A in Figure 8-11 represents the ideal conformation.



View from the Back

Figure 8-12 illustrates the conformation of the hind legs viewed from the rear of the animal. A perpendicular line drawn downward from the point of the buttocks should fall in line with the center of the hock, cannon, pastern, and foot. View A in Figure 8-12 represents the correct conformation.

Body Dimensions and Performance

Major contributions to a good-bodied horse include long, sloping shoulders; short, strong back; long underline; and long, rather level croup. These attributes increase the probability that the horse is or can become a good "athlete."

If the shoulders are long and sloping, they extend the stride in running, absorb shock, reduce stumbling, move the elbows away from the girth, and raise the head slightly. The shoulders should be surmounted by clean, high withers that extend well backward to afford maximum security of the saddle.

Short backs and long underlines move the fore and rear legs farther apart, tend to raise the croup and head, contribute to style and action, and increase height and length of stride. Also, short backs are stronger, reduce the length of coupling (hipbone to last rib), and are usually more muscular than others. Finally, well-sprung ribs that blend into hips and shoulders with minimum roughness tend to accompany short backs.

Long, rather level croups accommodate more muscling, increase style and balance, and are less often associated with crooked hind legs.

Because all of the power used in motion comes from the hindquarters, muscular development should be extensive, commensurate with breed requirements. Breeching, thighs, and gaskins should be especially muscular. Long, smooth muscles are preferred to those that are short and bunchy.

Leverage is gained with maximum length from hip to hock and minimum length of cannon. These dimensions are developed to a high degree in breeds that race. Smoothness, balance, and symmetry are a result of all parts blending together, being of proportionate size, and each contributing equally to the whole of a symmetrical individual. These, combined with refinement, alertness, and a proud carriage, contribute to style.


Leg Set

Proper leg set is essential to durability and good action. A leg should be properly positioned under each corner of the body, knees and hocks should not deviate inward or outward, and feet should point straight forward as viewed from the front, side, and back.

If a horse stands on crooked legs, it must move likewise. Crooked movement detracts from appearance, wastes energy, and predisposes a horse to unsoundnesses.

Pasterns should be medium in length, sloped at approximately 45 degrees, and flexible but strong. Hoofs should have the same angle as pasterns, and be deep and wide at the heels, moderate in size, dense of horn, and free of rings. White hoofs are softer (wear faster) than others. Slope of shoulders and pasterns and expansion of heels account for shock absorption when the horse is in motion.

Bone should be adequate in size, show definition of joints, and should appear flat when viewed from the side, as compared to a front view.

Bone spavins, bogs, thoroughpins, and weakness are common to sickle hocks. Jarring from short, straight pasterns and shoulders predisposes to side bones, stiffness, bogs, and lameness. Pigeon toes tend to wing, whereas splayed feet tend to swing inward in motion.

Effect of Quality on Wearability

Quality is indicated by refinement of head, bone, joints, and hair coat. It is reflected in thin skin, prominent veins, and absence of coarseness, especially in the legs. Good circulation in the legs is important to durability. Coarse, "meaty" legs with reduced circulation tend to stock, puff, bog, and become unsound. A horse of quality is more attractive and more appealing to the buyer.

Effect of Head and Neck on Flexibility

The length and shape of a horse's neck and the size of its head affect action. The neck should be long, slightly arched, and fine and clean at the throatlatch for maximum balance, style, and maneuverability. Fine throats enhance ease of breathing and allow maximum flexion of the chin without binding the jaws on the neck (Figure 8-13). Short-necked, thick-throated horses "steer" hard and may be "head slingers" from jaw pressure when pulled up short. Size of head should be in accord with breed requirements. Ears should not be oversized and should be carried alertly. Eyes should be wide-spaced, large, and clear. Nostrils should be large but refined, and lips firm instead of pendulous.

What Does It Take to Be a Good Horse-Show Judge?

Being a good horse-show judge
requires knowledge and skill. Here
is a checklist:

* An exact knowledge of the rules of the
division or breed

* A knowledge of correct conformation and

* A knowledge of standards of perfection for
each breed or division in both halter and
performance classes

* An organized mind to sort out top and

* Good note-taking skills and a good method
of remembering

* Physical stamina and good health

* Impartiality, ethics, and fairness

* Courtesy and good manners

* Control of the show ring: keeping track
of entries, lineups, workouts, and time

* Ability to live with a decision

Judges serve as their own conscience. The
best show-ring decision is the one a judge
makes when he or she has the correct knowledge
and is ethical and fair.

Effect of Disposition on Usefulness

If riding is to be a joy and safety a requirement, good dispositions become a must. They may be both "born" and "made." Some breeds are more docile than others, and wide differences exist among individuals within breeds. Any horse appropriately trained will have a satisfactory disposition for normal riding. Conversely, horses of excellent disposition can be spoiled by improper handling.

The horse's ears and eyes show nervousness and resistance. Handling the feet can indicate the disposition of the horse.

Courage or "heart" is necessary for horses used for racing and sporting events. Intelligence or ability to learn is an asset in any horse. These can be identified in horses trained or in training and may be predicted in part by pedigree or family relationships.

A horse with the proper conformation and disposition is physically able to be an effective performer. To do so, it needs to be fed correctly and kept healthy.


Being a good judge requires familiarity with the colors and markings of horses. Some of these are unique to a breed, and others are purely descriptive. Colors and markings are also used for identification.

Body Colors

Body colors range from black to white. A good judge uses the proper color description when judging horses.

* Bay--Body color ranging from tan through red to reddish brown; mane and tail black; usually black legs

* Black--Body color true black without light areas; mane and tail black

* Blue roan--More or less uniform mixture of white with black hairs on the body, but usually darker on head and lower legs; can have a few red hairs in mixture

* Brown--Body color brown or black with light areas at muzzle, eyes, flank, and inside legs; mane and tail black

* Buckskin--Body color yellowish or gold; mane and tail black; usually black on lower legs. Buckskins usually do not have dorsal stripes.

* Chestnut--Body color dark red or brownish red; mane and tail usually dark red or brownish red, but may be flaxen

* Dun--Body color yellowish or gold; mane and tail may be black, brown, red, yellow, white, or mixed; usually has dorsal stripe, zebra stripes on legs, and transverse stripes over withers

* Gray--Mixture of white with any colored hairs; often born solid-colored or almost solid-colored and get lighter with age, or more white hairs appear

* Grullo--Body color smoky or mouse-colored; not a mixture of black and white hairs, but each hair mouse-colored; mane and tail black; usually black on lower legs. Usually has dorsal stripe.

* Paint--The two most common paint color patterns are tobiano and overo. The tobiano horse will usually have head markings like a solid-colored horse; legs may be white, and body markings are often regular and distinct, being oval or round patterns. The overo horse will often have a bald face, at least one dark-colored leg, and body markings that are usually irregular, scattered, or splashy white. These markings do not cross the back between the withers and tail (Figure 8-14).

* Palomino--Body color golden yellow; mane and tail white. Palominos do not have a dorsal stripe.

* Red dun--A form of dun with body color yellowish or beige; mane, tail, and dorsal stripe are red

* Red roan--More or less uniform mixture of white with red hairs on the body, but usually darker on head and lower legs; can have red, black, or flaxen mane and/or tail

* White--A true white horse is born white and remains white throughout its life. A white horse has snow-white hair, pink skin, and brown, hazel, or blue eyes.

Head Marks

Head markings include the star, strip or stripe, snip, blaze, and bald face. These are illustrated in Figure 8-15.

A star is a solid white mark on the forehead. The shape may range from oval to diamond to a narrow vertical, diagonal, or horizontal star. A strip or stripe is a white mark starting at eye level or below and ending on or above the upper lip. The size and shape of a stripe may vary widely and must be described in detail as to its width, length, and relationship (whether it is connected or unconnected) to a star.



A snip is a white or beige mark over the muzzle between the nostrils, while a blaze is a wide patch of white extending down the face and covering the full width of the nasal bones. A bald face is a wide white marking that extends beyond both eyes and nostrils.

Leg Marks

Descriptive words for leg markings include coronet, pastern, ankle, half-stocking, stocking, stocking plus, white on knee or hock, white spots, and distal spots.

A coronet is a white marking covering the coronet band. A pastern is a white marking from the coronet to the pastern, and an ankle a white marking from the coronet to the fetlock. A half-stocking is a white marking from the coronet to the middle of the cannon, a stocking is a white marking from the coronet to the knee, and a stocking plus is a white marking like the stocking, but one in which the white extends onto the knee or hock (Figure 8-16).

The designation white on knee or hock indicates a separate white mark on the knee or hock. White spots means white spots on the front of the coronet band or on the heel; distal spots indicates dark spots on a white coronet band. Figure 8-17 shows the markings on the leg.




Table 8-2 can be used as a scorecard when judging light horses. It helps the judge remember what to look for in each view and in specific areas.


To be a successful judge either at a show on an individual basis or in a judging contest competing on a team, judges need the following attributes:

1. A desire to know thoroughly what is being judged

2. A clear knowledge of the ideal or standard type and the ability to recognize desirable and undesirable points of conformation

3. Quick and accurate powers of observation

4. Ability to form a mental image of many individual animals and to rank them by making comparisons

5. Reasoning power that takes into account practical considerations

6. Ability to reach a definite decision based on sound judgment

7. Extreme honesty and sincerity to avoid bias or prejudice

8. Decisions based on personal knowledge and judgment

9. Steady nerves and confidence in ability to make close independent decisions based entirely on the animals' merits

10. Ability to do the best work possible at the time and have no regrets about the results or accomplishments

11. Ability to evaluate and rank the individual animal according to its appearance on the day of judging, regardless of its rank at previous shows

12. Sound knowledge acquired through practice and experience to give effective reasons for decisions

13. A pleasant and even temperament without fraternizing with exhibitors or friends along the ringside

14. Firmness to stand by and defend placings without offending or in any way implying decisions are infallible


Like any skill, becoming a horse judge requires practice, practice, and more practice. Individuals can begin to learn the skill of judging by participating in judging events as a contestant in 4-H or other contests and eventually participating in judging competitions in high school and college as a member of a judging team. For example, Horse Evaluation is one of the Career Development Events (CDE) for the National FFA Organization. Preparing for this event requires practice sessions that the FFA advisor arranges.

According to the CDE Handbook, participants in this event should practice judging four halter classes represented by the following breeds and types: Quarter Horse, Conformation Hunter, Appaloosa, Arabian, Paint, American Saddlebred, and Morgan. All halter classes in the CDE are judged as sound. This means the judging teams can assume the horses have no unsoundnesses, so the teams must look for the other traits in order to place the animals-- balance, muscling, structure, quality, and traveling.

Future judges also need practice in performance classes. In the CDE, teams judge four performance classes. These classes judge the horse and rider in performances such as Western Pleasure, Western Riding (Pattern One), Reining, English Pleasure (Saddle Seat), Hunter Under Saddle (Hunt Seat), and Hunter Hack. Performance classes are judged as presented, which means that unsoundness can be penalized. The American Quarter Horse Association reining pattern is provided to the teams before the event. All horses run the same pattern, and they are given the pattern in advance.

Some helpful resources for developing judging skills include:

* AQHA Handbook of Rules and Regulations--2006 < association/registration/handbook.html>

* National FFA--Horse Evaluation CDE < cde_events.htm#horse>

* Oklahoma State University--Horse Breeds <>

* University of Kentucky Agripedia--Horse Judging < agripedia/agmania/horse/>

Also helpful for the aspiring judge is the official judging guide and breed specifications from each of the various breed associations. Finally, people who are serious about becoming a horse judge should find a mentor who is willing to work with them as they develop their individual skills.


Horse ownership can be a rewarding experience if the appropriate horse is selected. Criteria for selecting a horse include experience with horses, expected use, soundness, grade or registered, breed, color, size, age, training, sex, disposition and vices, facilities, price, and conformation. The importance of each of these factors will depend on individual needs. As experience is gained and interest grows (or changes), different types of horses will be needed. Sometimes expert help is needed when deciding what type of horse is right. Regardless of the horse selected, consistent and firm discipline and proper management are vital to maintain the animal. Horse ownership is a big responsibility. Continually gaining more knowledge can make horse ownership a more rewarding experience.

Judging horses requires extensive knowledge about horses in order to make fair comparisons and reach a sound conclusion. Judges need to be able to describe horse colors, markings, and conformation. When judging conformation, emphasis is placed on the set of feet and legs. A good judge must recognize when a horse has a fault in the way it is set on its legs, since this determines how it will move. A horse with crooked legs cannot move true. Regardless of a horse's excellent head, neck, shoulder, top, and general balance and conformation, if it is crooked on its legs, it is not a top horse.

Besides a thorough knowledge of horses, good judges should have personality traits that make them accurate and fair.


Success in any career requires knowledge. Test your knowledge of this chapter by answering these questions or solving these problems.

True or False

1. Buying a horse represents a sound investment that will increase in value.

2. Young horses are best for the first-time rider/owner.

3. Potential horse owners should consider only a registered horse.

4. Adopting a wild horse is the best risk for a first-time horse owner.

5. A horse with a bald face lacks hair on its nose.

Short Answer

6. List eight costs associated with owning a horse after the initial purchase.

7. Identify 10 terms used to describe the body color of horses.

8. List 10 factors to consider when selecting a horse.

9. Which is the best choice for riding: a mare, a gelding, or a stallion?

10. What is a good guideline for selecting the first horse for a young rider?

Critical Thinking/Discussion

11. When is breed an important consideration in selection?

12. Why is the proper selection of a horse so important?

13. When is the purchase of a horse considered an investment with the possibility

of making money?

14. Why are age and sex important considerations when selecting a horse?

15. Describe five typical face markings found on horses.

16. Describe five typical leg markings.

17. Why is conformation a more important consideration than breed when selecting a horse for personal enjoyment?

18. Briefly describe how a horse should be judged.

19. What makes a person a good judge of horses?

20. Differentiate between selecting a horse for an investment and selecting a horse for personal recreation.


1. Collect color photographs of horses representing the following body colors: bay, blue roan, brown, buckskin, dun, grullo, tobiano, overo, red roan, palomino, and white. The breed registries in Table A-16 in the appendix may be helpful.

2. Select one of the breed registries in Table A-16. Write to the registry and ask them to send any guidelines they have for judging horses representative of their breed.

3. Attend a horse-judging event such as a horse show, county fair, 4-H, or FFA event. Take notes and photographs. Report on the event.

4. Using the Internet, newspaper want ads, or other sources, develop a table of horse prices. Include as much information about each horse as possible. For example, include the breed, age, sex, and any special training. Find this information on at least 15 horses for sale.

5. Make a photocopy of Table 8-1 or create it in an electronic spreadsheet program such as Excel. Using actual values from your area, complete the table and calculate the cost of owning a horse for 1 year.



American Youth Horse Council. (2004). Horse industry handbook: A guide to equine care and management. Lexington, KY: Author.

Davidson, B., & Foster, C. (1994). The complete book of the horse. New York: Barnes & Noble Books.

Silver, C. (1993). The illustrated guide to horses of the world. Stamford, CT: Longmeadow Press.

Wood, C. H., & Jackson, S. G. (1989). Horse judging manual. Lexington: University of Kentucky, College of Agriculture, Cooperative Extension Service.


Internet sites represent a vast resource of information, but remember that the URLs (uniform resource locator) for World Wide Web sites can change without notice. Using one of the search engines on the Internet such as Yahoo!, Google, or, find more information by searching for these words or phrases:

adopting horses

grade horses

horse breeds

horse coloring

horse markings

horse pedigree

horse-show judge

judging a horse

registered horses

selecting a horse

Table A-18 in the appendix also provides a listing of some useful Internet sites that can serve as a starting point for further exploration.
TABLE 8-1 Calculating the Annual Costs for Owning a Horse (1)

                                          Price/              Total
Operating Inputs          Units            Unit    Quantity    Cost

Grain mix                 hundredweight               19.8
Grass hay                 ton                          2.8
Salt and minerals         pounds                      10.0
Farrier                   head                         6.0
Veterinary medicine (1)   head            $50.00        --    $50.00
Veterinary services       head            130.00        --    130.00
Utilities                 dollar           80.00        --     80.00
Tack, misc. supplies      dollar          390.00        --    390.00
Bedding                   head             70.00        --     70.00
Entry fees (3)            dollar                        --
Travel expenses           dollar                        --
Horse training            dollar                        --
Rider training            dollar                        --
Labor                     dollar                        --
Interest                  dollar                        --

Total cost of owning a horse for 1 year:

(1) Assumes one mature light (1,100 pound) horse in a confined system.

(2) Veterinary medicine, veterinary services, utilities, tack,
and bedding are estimates. Use actual figures where available.

(3) Use actual figures or best estimates for entry fees, travel
expenses, horse training, rider training, labor, and interest for
1 year.

TABLE 8-2 Scorecard for Judging or Selecting Light Horses

View or Item    What to Look For    Ideal Type

Front           Head                Well-proportioned, refined,
                                    clean-cut, with chiseled
                                    appearance; broad, full forehead
                                    with great width between eyes;
                                    jaw broad and strongly muscled;
                                    ears medium size, well carried
                                    and attractive

                Femininity or       Refinement and femininity in
                masculinity         brood mares; boldness and
                                    masculinity in stallions

                Chest capacity      Deep, wide chest
                Set of front legs   Straight, true, and squarely set

Rear            Width of croup,     Wide and muscular over croup and
                and width through   through rear quarters
                rear quarters

                Set of hind legs    Straight, true, and squarely set

Side            Style and beauty    High carriage of head, active
                                    ears, alert disposition, and
                                    beauty of conformation

                Balance and         All parts well developed and
                symmetry            nicely blended together

                Neck                Fairly long; carried high;
                                    clean-cut about throat latch

                Shoulders           Sloping at about 45 degrees

                Topline             Short, strong back and loin with
                                    long, nicely turned and heavily
                                    muscled croup; high well-set tail;
                                    withers clearly defined and of
                                    same height as high point over

                Coupling            Short, as denoted by last rib
                                    being close to hip

                Rear flank          Deep

                Arm, forearm,       Well-muscled
                and gaskin

                Legs, feet, and     Straight, true, and squarely set
                pasterns            legs; pasterns sloping about 45

                Quality             Abundant, denoted by clean, flat
                                    bone, well-defined joints, tendons,
                                    refined head and ears; fine skin
                                    and hair

                Breed type          Enough characteristics of specific
                                    breed to meet breed specifications

Soundness       Soundness and       Sound and free from blemishes
                freedom from
                any defects in
                conformation that
                may predispose
                to unsoundness

Action          At walk             Easy, prompt, balanced; a long
                                    step, with each foot carried
                                    forward in a straight line; feet
                                    lifted off the ground

                At trot             Rapid, straight, and elastic with
                                    joints well flexed

                At canter           Slow and collected; readily
                                    executed on either lead

Total points:

                     Points                      Points
View or Item        Assigned                      Given

Front                  15

Rear                   15

Side                   35

Soundness              15

Action                 20

Total points:                                      100
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Author:Parker, Rick
Publication:Equine Science, 3rd ed.
Date:Jan 1, 2008
Previous Article:Chapter 7 Unsoundness.
Next Article:Chapter 9 Determining age, height, and weight of horses.

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